How Will Driverless Cars Change Your City?

ByGary Maidment

January 10, 2019

Gary Maidment

It’s anticipated that L5 fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) will be able to quietly sense their way around the world’s roads by 2030, marking a milestone in technological maturity for AI- and electric-powered autonomy that’s already progressing beyond the toddler stage.
From fixed-route public transport, freight trucks, and delivery drones to the more complex tech skillset required by driverless cars (or pods) without fixed routes, AVs may be one of the most disruptive technologies that we experience in our lifetimes.
For 1.3 million people (the global annual average of road fatalities), mainstream adoption will mean the difference between life and death.  Moreover, many of the estimated 9 million people who die each year from pollution-related illnesses may soon be gifted with greater longevity, as the anticipated shift to electric power for AVs gradually shuts down a major source of pollution.
And most of us will have more time. Vehicle-to-Everything connectivity and connected traffic infrastructure promises effortless, gridlock-free commuting. The French city of Nice currently ranks number one on the pleasant commuting list, but the average commute time is still 40 minutes. As a quality of life booster, pain-free commuting is something we can all root for – you apparently hate it even more than you think you do, “People don’t fully appreciate the psychological, emotional, and physical costs of longer travel times,” says a study by Harvard Business Review.

A Less Obvious Change

But as humanity gradually eases its collective foot off the gas due to the convergence of 5G, Cloud, IoT, AI and other AV-specific tech, one phenomenon that’s talked about less often is the impact AVs will have on city space – specifically, changes to the aesthetic and dynamic of the urban fabric.
By 2030, the city you live in now may have started taking on a very different look and feel.

Goodbye Car Ownership

For a start, there’ll be far fewer cars on the roads. This study predicts that US car ownership will plummet by 80%, from today’s 247 million to just 44 million in 2030. If this holds true on a global scale, there’ll be around 260 million or so cars in use on the planet as of 2030 – marginally more than the US total today. (If you’re interested, there were 1.32 billion cars on the world’s roads as of 2016.)
Many people (including me) love driving. But, as well as environmental concerns, it’s not cheap. If you live in Britain, running a car costs you around £2,000 per year in addition to the initial outlay. In America, car ownership, including loan repayments, totals around US$8,700 each year. In Singapore, when all fees plus purchase price are considered, you need to lay down US$110,000 just to get a VW Golf on the road.
Moreover, most cars sit idle for the vast majority of their service life (up to 95% of the time!), quietly depreciating and rusting in a garage or parking lot.

Hello Ride Hailing

As currently represented by Uber, Lyft, Grab, Didi in China, and a raft of crowdsourcing commute apps, Transport-as-a-Service (TaaS) is likely to evolve even further with AVs, creating a fast, efficient on-demand service that, thanks to Cloud, will know your journey history and preferences before it even picks you up.
Compared with today’s cars, passenger AVs are likely to live a vastly more active, but shorter, service life under the TaaS model. Given that up to 75% of car trips are single occupancy, it’s possible that the form factor of future cars will be more like pods that are connectable, thus catering for both single- and multiple-occupant journeys.

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What Does this Mean for Cities?

More Space for Other Stuff

Eighty percent fewer cars that are infrequently idle require far less space for parking lots and roadside parking. They will also require far fewer roads.
Consider that 14% of Los Angeles comprises parking lots and that a total of 1 billion parking spaces are dotted around the US, each taking up 31 square meters including access space. On a global scale, reclaiming huge areas of land and using it for other purposes, for example, agriculture, housing, parks, play areas, or infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, has huge potential for both improving quality of life and also fulfilling burgeoning demand.
The UK, for example, is reportedly facing a backlog of 4 million homes and it’s estimated that England needs to build 340,000 homes per year until 2031 to meet demand. The UK isn’t alone – with the world’s population increasing by around 1 billion every 12 years, the demand for housing and space as a whole is at a premium. There should also be more money in the pot: in the US, for example, building-in minimum parking requirements for a shopping center increases construction costs by up to 67% for above-ground parking, and almost doubles it (93%) for below-ground parking.
When parking is necessary for AVs, a smarter, more efficient, and automated vehicle stacking system could further maximize released space.

Your City Will Look and Smell Nicer

The rise of AVs and the space saved could have a huge impact both in how your city looks, how space is allocated, and how population density is concentrated. A greener and cleaner space is likely to emerge where the perception of factors that decrease quality of life, like congestion and overcrowding, will diminish, despite the increase in population.
Combined with the rise in people working at home, faster moving traffic where optimized routing slashes travel times and eliminates congestion will mean that people will have the freedom to live farther away from work, which may result in more evenly spread population distribution and the gradual disappearance of central business districts.

But, 

There’s still some way to go before our cities begin to look like artists’ futuristic, Utopian impressions (if they ever do), with the flying drones and greenery-dotted buildings that spark the imagination.

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And there are many barriers to overcome before vehicles become fully autonomous. Nevertheless, the future’s clear and and the road ahead is a positive one.
For a deeper dive into the technology that’s making AVs happen, click the link to find out how Huawei’s mobile data center is putting the brain in driverless technology and how we’re on the road to meeting the technical specs required for full autonomy.
Also, leave us your opinion: (1) Does buying an autonomous vehicle appeal to you or not? (2) Will you miss driving when full autonomy becomes mainstream?

One thought on “How Will Driverless Cars Change Your City?

  1. I certainly hope being able to drive a car will still be a thing as I love driving and don’t want to let go of that anytime soon. Ride-sharing and AVs sound great for commuting in city traffic, but I’d always need to be able to drive through an open stretch of roads in the weekends to refresh. I hope that will not be going away like some are predicting.

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